A top US diplomat gave testimony in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, telling lawmakers his boss sought to use leverage to secure political favours.
Gordon Sondland, President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, was the most anticipated witness in the House impeachment inquiry and his testimony on Wednesday showed why.
He made repeated references to a quid pro quo involving Ukraine and invoked the names of senior Trump administration officials who, he said, knew what was going on. He also confirmed the existence of a newly revealed telephone call with Trump one day after Trump had pressed Ukraine’s leader for an investigation into Trump political rival, former vice president Joe Biden.
TRT World's Jon Brain reports from Washington.
Here are some takeaways from the fourth day of the impeachment inquiry.
'This for that'
Sondland repeatedly referred to a quid pro quo — one thing in return for another — in describing the administration’s dealings with Ukraine. It was a remarkable spectacle: Trump’s own ambassador using the exact term that the president himself has disavowed.
“I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a 'quid pro quo?' As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes,” Sondland said.
The quid pro quo, in this case, he said, involved arranging a White House visit for Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in return for Zelenskiy announcing investigations of Biden and a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. That proposed arrangement was pushed by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who conveyed Trump’s wishes to multiple administration officials.
“Mr Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president,” Sondland said.
‘Everyone was in the loop’
Sondland made clear that this was no rogue effort. Sondland said he was open about Trump’s demand that Ukraine commits to the investigations.
He updated Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the White House’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, telling them that Ukraine’s leader would conduct a “fully transparent investigation” and “turn over every stone.”
Sondland further told Pompeo that he and another American diplomat, Kurt Volker, had negotiated a statement that Zelenskiy could deliver that “will hopefully make the boss happy enough to authorise an invitation” to the White House.
Sondland name-dropped Vice President Mike Pence as well, telling him he was concerned that aid to Ukraine had become tied to the issue of investigations. Pence replied that he would speak to Trump about it.
“Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret,” Sondland said.
This account made clear Sondland’s refusal to be a fall guy for the administration’s dealings with Ukraine and underscored that officials across the government were aware of the unconventional dialogue. It could also undercut a Republican talking point that Sondland was part of a rogue and unsanctioned back channel.
Trump's new messenger
Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general and a newly hired White House adviser, had an uneven performance in one of her first high-profile appearances as part of President Donald Trump’s impeachment messaging team.
Ahead of Sondland’s highly anticipated testimony in the House impeachment inquiry, Bondi on CBS “This Morning” repeatedly and incorrectly referred to Sondland as the chief envoy to Ukraine.
Bondi, who joined the administration just days ago, also described Sondland as a “short-term ambassador” and incorrectly described him as the envoy to Ukraine.
“The president doesn’t know him very well,” Bondi said of Sondland, who reportedly called Trump on his mobile phone while dining at a Kyiv restaurant. Bondi added that “of course he knows him, he’s the ambassador."
Bondi also said that Trump probably won’t offer testimony in the impeachment hearing. The president said earlier this week that he was weighing submitting written testimony.
“Of course he wants to testify, because he did nothing wrong,” Bondi said. But do I think it’s likely he’s going to testify? Probably not, because no one would advise him to testify.”